Lost sleep. Lost revenue. Stress levels through the roof.
If this sounds like you — and your business — you’re not alone. According to a recent survey of SMB owners, nearly two-thirds of respondents admitted to being stressed about the impact of COVID-19 on their business, and 68% have been losing at least one hour of sleep. These stats are unsurprising when you consider 86% of survey respondents also reported a decline in business revenue.
But it’s not all bad news. Even though many SMBs have not gone back to “business as usual,” most (78%) are feeling more prepared for an uncertain future. Three lessons learned from those SMBs can help businesses not only bounce back, but bounce forward.
Don’t be afraid of the new and unknown.
The pandemic forced SMBs everywhere, especially those normally reliant on foot traffic and in-person interactions, to rethink how they could support their business goals.
Some, like Walnut Grill, moved their businesses entirely online, adding cloud-supported ecommerce and curbside pickup options, and creating digital storefronts to connect with customers in lieu of face-to-face interactions. Others turned to chatbots and customer data management solutions to support their customers with a leaner staff. Some SMBs implemented contactless and electronic payment options for the first time, supported by secure, high-speed broadband.
The takeaway here: Start with an idea and then find a way to make it work — because for every new strategy, there is a technology that can support it.
New strategies and technologies won’t just sustain your business; they will also improve it. The SMB survey found nearly one-third of companies (31%) said they would have never implemented the technologies they did if not for the pandemic. The ones who did are now more agile and advanced, with new ways to make their operations even more efficient.
Accept that remote work is here to stay, and make that environment seamless for your employees.
The pandemic forced a widespread shift to remote work, and dozens of organizations have already indicated that this is a long-term, if not permanent, reality. To stay competitive during hiring processes and keep current employees happy, business owners must ensure their staff can be just as productive from home (or anywhere) as they could within the business’s four walls.
That requires solving some of the challenges of working from home. With everyone in a household competing for bandwidth for remote work and school, one of those challenges is reliable connectivity.
Businesses can implement a dedicated, in-home, enterprise-grade connectivity solution that is separate from an employee’s residential network. This gives the employee fast, reliable internet with no data usage threshold, while ensuring their home internet connection remains available for streaming, smart devices, video chats, remote schooling and other personal uses.
Some roles, like sales and customer service, spend more time on the phone than the computer. To support these employees in a remote environment, businesses can invest in on-the-go voice solutions that route calls from a business number to any device, keeping staff connected with customers and prospects.
Shore up your cybersecurity playbook.
Reliable options for keeping employees connected is just one aspect of an effective remote work scenario. SMBs are often targeted by hackers, and remote employees add another element of risk.
For example, cloud services have enabled the rapid expansion of remote work for companies like Branch Creative Group by allowing business-critical applications to be accessed from anywhere. But this increased reliance on the cloud comes with new cybersecurity concerns. A recent IDG survey found 98% of businesses surveyed said securing applications, data and infrastructure in the cloud is “very” or “somewhat” challenging. Almost all organizations IDG surveyed (95%) feel that their current security infrastructure impedes their ability to protect data as it moves to and from the cloud.
To secure the cloud, a business must first protect access to its network and deliver secure transport. Some solutions include secure gateways; site-to-site VPNs; application-aware firewalls; and network access controls. Unified threat management (UTM) solutions, both on premises and in the cloud, also can help alleviate cloud-centric cybersecurity fears.
But VPNs aren’t always the right option. The spike in remote work has overwhelmed VPNs in some cases, with many companies struggling to add capacity. Software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) can be useful in this instance. SD-WAN gives a business the ability to control and manage network traffic, helping to alleviate capacity overloads, and it can be layered on top of any broadband or Ethernet connectivity.
For SMBs without in-house IT staff, managed solutions remove the hands-on work while giving a business access to all of an SD-WAN’s capabilities. Look for an SD-WAN provider that offers advanced features to protect against online threats, such as a built-in firewall and the ability to integrate into third-party security solutions.
Preparing for an Ever-Changing Future
Over the past six-plus months, small and mid-size businesses have shown remarkable resilience and an aptitude for innovation. SMBs that feel ready to face current and future challenges have invested in key technologies and implemented new strategies that will allow them to be agile in a changing world.
As you rethink your own operations, remember the solutions you will need will vary based on your individual business and industry. Find a reliable technology partner who can guide you toward the best ways to support your new strategies, your business and your goals, and you’ll be well prepared for the future — as uncertain as it might seem.